Danilo Doncic is still in the early stages of his coaching career but, judging by his galvanising impact on Sliema Wanderers, the Serb looks to have all the attributes to replicate the success he enjoyed as a player with Valletta and the same Sliema in the Premier League.
We’re happy to be in Championship Pool but our season is far from over
After succeeding Mark Marlow in February last year, Doncic steered the then misfiring Blues to survival.
Like most of the clubs in the top flight, Sliema set themselves the target of Championship Pool football this season but, after an encouraging start, the club went through a tumultous spell as Steve Abela’s abrupt resignation as president and the departure of key players took their toll on the team’s performances.
Yet, Sliema, under the guidance of Doncic and Keith Perry, the club’s new president, overcame the difficulties and their efforts were rewarded on Sunday when a 3-1 win over Qormi confirmed their place in the Championship Pool.
“Our foremost objective was to secure a place in the top six,” Doncic told The Times.
“At Sliema, the ambitions are always high because of the club’s glorious history. People always expect the team to do well.
“This season, the club went through some changes, on and off the field, and that made our task more difficult but credit to everyone for achieving this target.
“We’re happy to be in the Championship Pool but our season is far from over. We now have to challenge for a place in Europe. It will not be easy as we will start the second phase behind the leading three teams but it’s not an impossible task.
“There’s still a lot to play for... 30 points will be at stake in the second phase.”
With three losses in 21 games, Sliema only trail Valletta and Hibs in the defeats column but an incredible total of 11 draws undermined their bid to make sure of a top-six slot with something to spare.
Selection problems and the team’s below-par form were at the root of Sliema’s failure to close out matches, according to Doncic.
“Eleven draws in 21 games... I think it’s a record,” Doncic remarked.
“We needed to raise our form to win matches. In most games that we drew, we were leading and this is something we must work on.
“When we’re winning, we must be mature enough to close the match. We also have to remember that we have new players in the team who are still some way off their best. I hope they reach peak form soon as the season is now entering a crucial stage.
“The likes of Trevor Cilia and Emiliano Lattes were not playing regular football before they joined us and Alex Muscat, the team captain, had been sidelined for a long period of time.”
Doncic admitted that at first he didn’t envisage that Sliema would have to wait until their penultimate game of the first phase to book their place in the elite group.
“To be honest, when we started the league, I was optimistic about our top-six chances,” Doncic said.
“We had a very good pre-season in Bulgaria and the heart of the team was there. I felt that we had strong foreign players but then the problems began.
“The president stepped down and key players like Jean Pierre Mifsud Triganza and Alex Muscat were out with injuries.
“The departure of three first-team players in January (Mifsud Triganza, Jackson Lima and Jorge) didn’t help our cause either.
“Every club needs stability and results don’t come straightaway. On the positive side, we’ve only lost three games and that shows that Sliema have an important quality... we’re tough to beat.”
Doncic paid tribute to Perry and his fellow committee members for their contribution.
“It’s also thanks to the president and his committee that we have come this far,” Doncic said.
“Slowly, but surely, these people are restoring stability and the club’s organisation is getting better and better.
“This is also having a positive effect on the team. Keith Perry stepped into the president’s role a few months into the season and he’s been working 24 hours a day to boost the club. He’s very passionate about Sliema and his input helped us to attain this target.”
After a spell as player-coach of San Ġwann, Doncic was in charge of Floriana for one season and then spent more than two years working as assistant coach with Bulgarian club Lokomotiv Sofia, one of his former clubs, and Greek side Kavala.
Doncic headed back to Malta last year to pursue his ambition of becoming head coach of a Premier League team.
“When I returned, I wanted to push myself further by taking sole charge of a top-division club,” Doncic recalled.
“I enjoyed my time working with some top coaches abroad and I felt ready to seek a new challenge here. I’m happy that Sliema finished last season on a good note as they were in a difficult situation when I took over.
“This season, we’ve had our ups and downs but we had more positives than negatives. Overall, I’m happy with the team’s progress and for that, I want to thank the players for their commitment.”
Doncic’s blossoming reputation has inevitably triggered suggestions of interest from other clubs while Sliema are now expected to offer him a new contract.
The 42-year-old insisted that his immediate priorities are to guide Sliema to the highest possible finish in the league and to complete his Pro coaching licence.
“My focus has already turned to our next game against Mosta,” Doncic observed.
“There is no room for complacency, we need to move forward.
“Personally, I’m concentrating on finishing my Pro coaching course in Bulgaria. I’ve only got two semesters left. As for my future, it’s still early to make any decisions as the end of the season is still more than two months away.”
Source: Times of Malta